By David Feela
Three weeks after my article about the missing dump dog appeared in the Four Corners Free Press, I received an unusual call. Well, I didn't actually receive it – my answering machine did. I'd run away from home just like the dog, only I had asked my wife if she'd go with me. We'd headed for the barren but beautiful expanses of Death Valley, a place where we had celebrated the beginning of spring every year for the last decade. Wendy, a photographer and one of the Board of Directors for the newspaper, called to tell us that the photograph in the March issue matched a dog recently dropped off at our local animal shelter.
That surprised me for a couple of reasons. First, lost dogs tend to stay lost. Things happen to them, like fights with other animals, encounters with hazardous chemicals, or even lead poisoning from the barrel of an irritated neighbor's gun. Also, Lonesome had been gone for over six months!
When we last saw her, she'd been crippled by several serious health problems: a birth defect called dysplasia which prompts abnormal growth in the hips, making walking difficult, and the human defect called cruelty resulting in some soulless individual pushing carpet tacks into two of her four legs. The distance she could have comfortably traveled from our home with these misfortunes had to be small. I couldn't imagine how she'd ever have survived the winter on her own – I wondered how I'd survived it myself. After retrieving our messages, Pam and I tossed an old tarp in the back of the truck on the hunch that the dog in question might be the same one we'd christened Lonesome. I admit we both had our doubts.
But Lonesome it was, and Lonesome had been taken to the pound. Or I should say, the City of Cortez Animal Shelter, because the people who care for our society's rejected pets deserve our respect for the work they do. Besides, that's its name. The new facility is located close to the old one, along Highway 160 on the east side of town. Its doors opened for business on Feb. 17, 2004. Animals already in residence were transferred (literally walked and carried over) from the old shelter to the new one and the usual stream of abandoned or lost creatures continued to show up. Lonesome turned out to be one of the latter, dropped off a little over a week before we returned by an elderly lady on the south side of town who'd found the dog sleeping on her porch. Shelter personnel didn't know what to call the dog at first, so they dubbed her “Granny Go” based on her hobbled gait and the obvious weight of too many dog years.
When we arrived we identified our former house mate, but no collar or tag remained. A sort of yellowish tint that reminded me of sulfur covered what appeared to be a very depressed animal. All the other dogs yapped and barked, but Lonesome could only manage a sideways glance in our direction. Those hangdog bloodshot eyes reminded me of a hangover and if she recognized either of us we couldn't tell. She’d stayed at our home for only about three weeks before wandering off again and she looked to me as if she'd decided on oblivion as a way of life.
“So what would you like to do?” the Shelter’s director asked.
Pam and I looked at each other; we looked back at the dog. The person that should have answered the question was nowhere to be found. Of course, I’m referring to the one that first took her home as a puppy, the person that more than likely picked her out of a litter. The one whose voice swooned, “How Cute!” when her eyes had barely opened and the one that she had grown old with. You know who I'm talking about.
The City of Cortez Animal Shelter deals with 2,500 to 2,700 animals per year and the national average for finding homes runs at about 20 percent. Our facility does much better than average, placing around 50 percent of its residents. Puppies go quickly, and healthy animals that demonstrate an active awareness of their surroundings stand a good chance of finding homes. The shelter, unfortunately, doesn't have the resources to double as an assisted living facility. Lonesome needed fulltime care and major medical intervention. Even with these benefits, her quality of life would have remained minimal, at best. We knew nothing of her history and could only guess at the pain and discomfort she regularly felt. We opted to have her put down.
I’m still bothered by having to make that decision, but not about the decision itself. My personal papers include a similar choice for me when the time arrives because, like Lonesome, I was born without a pedigree. Unfortunately Lonesome, like every other animal living by its wits, cannot express how much amounts to too much, or whether it’s worth going on. It all comes down to one person, the individual whose commitment to an animal’s welfare ought to run parallel to his or her own. I know it’s common to say that a dog is man’s best friend, but I wonder, given the ability to speak, what the dog would say.
David Feela is a teacher at Montezuma-Cortez High School.